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A few words about yesterday....

Mark Sandell Mark Sandell | 11:29 UK time, Thursday, 5 July 2007

It was a brilliant day, for obvious reasons. Our colleague (and for a couple of members of the WHYS team - Leo and David - our friend) Alan Johnston had been freed after 114 long days.
The mood around Bush was unashamedly happy - the BBC like a lot of big organisations - can be a grumpy place and the "whinge culture" thrives, but yesterday was different. Big smiles and moist eyes were the order of the day, and the reception that Alan's parents and sister received when they arrived here will live long in the memory.

We took the decision very soon after Alan was abducted to make sure he was remembered every day. We started with the comments many of you left on the main BBC news website, we read out personal letters from Alan's colleagues here, we heard from his school and university friends, people he'd taught, people he'd interviewed, Scottish footballing legends, famous authors, fellow former hostages, journalists from other media organisations (including CBC and CNN) and - on one memorable occasion - his barber.

The aims were clear; we hoped upon hope that he was hearing them and that in some small way it would bring him comfort ; we hoped it would also help Alan's family to hear the massive level of support for him from all around the world ; and we wanted to make sure that somewhere, every day, Alan's name was being mentioned.

You supported this magnificently and on behalf of the team - thank you.

That's not to say we didn't get some criticism too ; "you only care because he's one of your own " was made a few times. Well, yes this was , for us, like no other story. He is "one of us" and we are very proud he is. Even within this building people questioned whether we (and I mean wider than WHYS) were over do-ing it a bit. I had a few e-mails early on saying there were bigger stories in the world, which is an argument which often gets thrown at us when people disagree with whatever story we're doing. It was different and we treated it differently. I recall in the past that when French journalists have been kidnapped, their faces appear on the national news bulletins every night so that no-one forgets them and the pressure is kept up on their captors.

Another complaint was a long the lines of "what about all the other hostages" and yes, I think it's fair enough that perhaps we haven't paid enough attention to them.

Another was from people who confused Alan's ability to tell the stories of the Palestinian people with his somehow being a spokesman for them. I'm sorry, but this was simply laughable. All I'm saying is that the decision to talk about Alan every day wasn't popular with all of you.

Then, last night, when he was exhausted and enjoying his first few hours of freedom, he actively chose to come on our programme, telling his colleagues that WHYS had been a "lifeline" for him during the darkest days. We were unashamedly chuffed to hear that.

The way he spoke to Lubna - and of course, Terry Waite, showed that he'd heard the programme while being held, and it had meant something to him.

Thanks for backing him. It sounds like he is very grateful to all of you.


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